Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Intervention-Based Assessment: Evaluation Rates and Eligibility Findings

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Intervention-Based Assessment: Evaluation Rates and Eligibility Findings

Article excerpt

Rates of evaluation and subsequent placement of children in special education programs have increased over the last 2 decades, especially for mild disabilities such as "specific learning disability" (U.S. Department of Education, 1995). The beneficial effects of special education programs have been questioned (Carlberg & Kavale, 1980; Kavale & Forness, 1999; Reschly, 1988a), and research indicates that there is no substantial difference between the characteristics of interventions likely to be effective for children diagnosed with mild disabilities and those likely to be effective for children displaying achievement problems in general education (Algozzine & Maheady, 1985; Marston, 1987). Moreover, it has been noted that special education placement often results in unnecessary stigmatization and separation of children from the mainstream, as well as disruption and fragmentation of school programs (Fuchs, Fuchs, Bahr, Fernstrom, & Stecker, 1990). These concerns have given rise to reform initiatives in which children's school performance problems are addressed via problem-solving methods which include the delivery of interventions prior to, or in the process of, evaluation to determine special education eligibility, a practice commonly known as "prereferral intervention" (Graden, Casey, & Christenson, 1985).

Traditional methods for determining special education eligibility employ test results to classify children's characteristics under a number of disability categories specified by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; U.S. Department of Education, 1995). This traditional assessment approach, which employs norm-referenced tests measuring child characteristics, serves a gatekeeping function for special education placement, where (it is presumed) effective interventions are more likely to occur. Problem-solving (or intervention-based) assessment, in contrast, employs direct measurement of student performance in natural settings for the design and evaluation of interventions, which may or may not incorporate the specialized resources associated with special education. Consequently, assessment resources are devoted to discovering and documenting effective intervention methods, rather than simply documenting a match between child characteristics and eligibility criteria. Since traditional eligibility determination activities have been criticized as yielding information that is not helpful in the process of intervention design (Reschly, 1988a, 1988b), problem-solving methods are viewed as more consistent with the goal of providing effective services to children who have disabilities or who are at educational risk.

In his argument for the adoption of problem-solving assessment methods, Reschly (1988b) predicted that they "have the potential to be as good as traditional measures in regard to eligibility determination and provide information related to interventions" (p. 498), and that they "will identify the same students currently found to be eligible through expensive procedures that are largely unrelated to interventions" (p. 498). Reductions in inappropriate referrals for eligibility determination and increases in service delivery in the least restrictive general education environment are reflective of these outcomes and consistent with the goals of educational reform (Sindelar, Griffin, Smith, & Watanabe, 1992).

Research has demonstrated that problem-solving assessment models yield outcomes consistent with special education reform goals, including increased services in general education settings and reductions in evaluation rates (Fuchs, Fuchs, Harris, & Roberts, 1996; Graden, et. al., 1985; Graden, Zins, & Curtis, 1988; Gutkin, Henning-Stout, & Piersel, 1988; Nelson, Smith, Taylor, Dodd, & Reavis, 1991; Ponti, Zins, & Graden, 1988; Reschly & Starkweather, 1997). However, three principal concerns limit the relevance of these findings to current initiatives promoting problem-solving methods in place of more traditional special education eligibility determination procedures. …

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